According to Rev. Dr. Wayne Knolhoff, former stewardship director and consultant with the LCMS Office of National Mission, Concordia Seminary and LCEF, the reason why there are so many misconceptions about stewardship is “that when it comes to stewardship, we focus on what the steward does (stewardship) without ever talking about who the steward is (identity).”
First and foremost, a Christian steward is a child of God. “The Gospel is the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ,” Knolhoff said. “It motivates the Christian steward. We love because He first loved us.” It naturally follows that “gratitude marks the life of the Christian steward.”
Thus, properly understood, stewardship is a response to God’s gift of salvation, a sentiment echoed in Luther’s words: “As [Christ] gives himself for us with his body and blood … so we too are to give ourselves with might and main for our neighbor.”
Second, the child of God cares (manages) for that which belongs to his Father. Roy Bleick writes in Much More Than Giving, “In the New Testament, stewardship … is never used to designate the action of giving, much less the giving of money … [but] relates primarily to the office of administration or management or to the implementation of a plan.”
Curtis says, “The Lord has called each of us to different vocations in the home, church and society. Under each of those vocations, we have the joy-filled duty to use all that God has given us for His purposes.”
Third, what belongs to our Father? Everything. James 1:17 tells us that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. “That means that everything,” Miller said—” from the food on our table to our personal strengths and talents—are all gifts from God.”
It boils down to this: Generosity is born of one’s relationship to Christ. It’s why we use His gifts for His purposes.
Daniel Conway writes in What Do I Own and What Owns Me?, “Stewardship means letting go of my independence, my ego, my need for control, and my desire to be someone … True stewardship means that I depend on a good and gracious God for who I am and what is mine—because they are all gifts to me.”
Thus, it rings hollow to limit stewardship to issues of finance. “It robs the Christian steward of the rich, full and fruitful life that God intends for His children,” according to Stewardship Primer: A Guide for the Christian Congregation. This sentiment is reflected in the official definition of stewardship adopted by the Synod in 1998:
“The free and joyous activity of the child of God and God’s family—the Church—in managing all of life and life’s resources for God’s purposes.”
The Gospel is what makes stewardship distinctively Christian in content, in method and in motivation. The stewardship life is dedicated to the cause of the Kingdom. Stewardship is the expression of our faith.
When the biblical teaching of stewardship is neglected or ignored, “the consequence is depriving ourselves of all that the Lord would give us. The consequence is hoarding the gifts the Lord gives us rather than sharing them so that they multiply. In this sense, stewardship is counterintuitive. We do not gain more by keeping what we have been given; instead in giving them away the gifts are multiplied beyond measure,” says Rev. Bart Day, president and CEO of LCEF.
When this happens, Knolhoff says, “The congregation will be living into God’s desire for them to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them all that He has commanded.”
According to Knolhoff, some of the congregational benefits of “intentional, systematic, whole life stewardship education” include:
• Operating from a perspective of abundance rather than scarcity.
• Experiencing a renewed mission focus.
• Increasing resources for mission and ministry.
• Relishing the joy of a steward’s life following Christ.
Knolhoff states, “Stewardship is what the steward does. Christian stewards understand that stewardship is the Christian life—all of it.”
When one leads a Christian life of stewardship, the focus is on Christ. Trust is placed in Him that He will provide for those who dedicate their lives in serving Him with the gifts He has blessed us with.
One example of this is seen in the history of the Macedonians. LCMS President, Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison explains in his book, Remember the Poor: How the Earliest Christians Cared for the Needy, “The Macedonians are noteworthy because in severe trial and extreme poverty, their joy in Christ has abounded and resulted in rich giving for the collection.”
In short, Curtis explains, “Ignoring any part of the whole counsel of God leads to trouble: maybe it’s despair, maybe it’s carnal security, maybe it’s missed mission opportunities.”
These short-term consequences feed into the well of long-term consequences. According to Knolhoff, this can include: “Congregations struggling to have enough willing workers in service to others; fund both mission and ministry; provide adequate compensation and care support for their professional church workers.”
These long-term consequences place the Church in a critical condition and prevent called workers from carrying out their mission.
So what now?
We know what stewardship is.
We know what it means as a Christian.
How do we move forward? What steps can we take to share this knowledge and implement plans to be stewards for the Church?
From Bible studies to books and how-to guides to insightful articles, the LCMS website provides a number of resources to get started, continue or inspire the keeping of our Lord and Savior’s estate, the Church. Visit lcms.org and search “stewardship ministry.”